If I were to defend the Yankees’ inactivity before the lockout, it would be:
1. They did nothing to add to their major league roster beyond retaining Joely Rodriguez, yet they still project to a 2022 payroll of about $225 million for luxury tax purposes (assuming there is a luxury tax in the next collective bargaining agreement). So maybe “cheap” isn’t the correct criticism.
2. The teams that mainly did the spending so far have not made the playoffs in quite a while and were playing catch-up on financial behemoths such as the Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox, all of whom were mostly quiet. The Rangers, for example, signed the two biggest contracts and took two of the five big shortstops off the board, investing $500 million on Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. Yet, consider that a beginner kit because they are still three good starting pitchers away from high-end contention (more if you don’t like their Jon Gray signing, which I don’t).
3. A couple of hundred free agents remain. The Yankees begin the process with Gerrit Cole, Jonathan Loaisiga, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and, in theory, a healthy DJ LeMahieu, which means a pretty strong start.
But I cannot fully defend the Yankees. That they have $225 million invested and still don’t have a shortstop or first baseman, or a trustworthy catcher, center fielder or No. 2 starter speaks to a combination of not spending wisely, not having enough difference-makers come through their system and not determining why players such as Miguel Andujar, Greg Bird, Clint Frazier, Deivi Garcia, Gary Sanchez, Gleyber Torres and Luke Voit have regressed under their care to the point that, for example, Bird and Frazier were released without returning any value to the Yankees.
An optimist will believe that LeMahieu will be healthy and return to 2019-20 LeMahieu. That liberated from shortstop, Torres will return to the 2018-2019 version of Torres. That the brilliant late-season relief cameo last year by Luis Severino after three mainly lost seasons pronounces a level of health to suggest he will recapture the 2017-18 version of Severino and be Cole’s co-pilot.